The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price Matthew 13.44-46
How much is human life worth.
Well I guess it depends how you look at it. In purely chemical terms, some iron from our blood, calcium from our bones, sodium, potassium etc. then we aren’t worth much £100 pounds at most. If we were to ask a human trafficker waiting to load you into the back of his van he might say £1,000 or £2,000, maybe as much as £5,000. Or perhaps we should base the value of a human life on what a person can produce, so people who can produce a lot would be worth a lot and children and old people would have little value. In our society Footballers, actors, pop stars, they all earn a lot of money so perhaps they are worth a great deal.
How do you value a human life, is it just the bare essentials, is it what you produce, is it what you know, is it what you can do, is it how you look? Because sometimes it seems as if that is the way the world values human lives. But maybe there is another way; well the Bible tells us there is.
Here are two stories base on our Bible readings this morning.
The first concerns a poor but hardworking man. Every day he goes -about his work, on his small holding. It’s not easy, life is hard but by his hard work, the sweat of his brow and the graft of his hands he manages to eke out a living for his family. And then it all goes wrong, he becomes sick and cannot work for a few weeks, he borrows some money to see him through but when he gets his strength back he cannot earn enough to pay back the loan plus the interest, it’s a common enough story. As he looks at his desperate wife and his hungry children he knows what he must do. He must sell his land, his small holding. His birth right will have to go to pay his debts and feed his family.
He feels a great sense of shame, sick to his stomach as he hands over the title deeds, feels as if his father, his grandfather, his great grandfather are all looking at him , all blaming him for losing the family land, all despising him for his weakness. The only thing his family ever had and he is selling it. But what else can he do, he is saving his family but it is giving him no satisfaction.
So another day dawns and he’s off to work again, but this time it’s not his own field. All day plodding up and down turning another man’s earth on another man’s farm with another man’s plough and another man’s oxen for another man’s profit, he feels absolutely worthless. Day after day, until one day something happens, he hears a clink of metal on metal as the plough cuts through the earth. He bends down to investigate and as he rubs the earth away from the metal he sees the glitter of gold. GOLD! He begins to scrabble in the earth; he can barely believe what he is seeing, treasure. Lots of it, coins and jewels, rings, bracelets, precious, beautiful valuable things put away for safe keeping long years ago. He looks up at the cloudless sky and he smiles and he says quietly to himself, finders keepers, because that’s what the rabbis say!
Quickly he covers up the hole, he runs home on winged feet, excited but terrified, speed is of the essence. He runs home and like a whirlwind rushes round the house catching up anything of value, a few coins, some bits of jewelry, a plate his mother gave him, his family look on in astonishment when clasping his bits and pieces to his chest he pants out of the house. A few minutes later he is laying it all out in front of his master to purchase the land. And then the relief the exaltation, it’s his, all his, the land and everything in it!
Meanwhile far away on the coast another man goes about his business. But his life is very different, no dirt and grime for him. He walks around in a swish of expensive robes, his fingers glisten with jewels, this man is a very rich man, he is a merchant and his ships ply their trade far and wide. At ports up and down the country the colours of his ships sails are known to everyone. He is a rich, rich man, his house is paved with marble, there are fountains playing, beautiful tiles, inlaid furniture. He eats the best of foods, drinks the best of wines, but he is not happy. Something is missing.
So day after day he wonders to and fro looking for that elusive prize. Every day as the boats come in he is to be found searching, searching amongst the fishermen’s catches. Hoping that maybe today will be the day, He knows that the boats have been out to sea, he knows that the young men have been pitching themselves overboard, bursting their lungs to dive into the inky depths to bring up those glittering pearls and he is desperate to see what they have found.
And on this day as he makes his way his heart filled with a mixture of expectation and resignation he sees the boys, he sees the tables and the baskets, he sees the oysters scattered on the flagstones, he sees his heart’s desire, the most perfect pearl, fat and round and glistening and worth absolutely everything to him.
In a flash finger are clicked, servants summoned porters come running. He sells his beautiful furniture, his wonderful home, his jewels, his robes. And as he walks away that day clutching the faultless pearl in his ring less hands he lifts it to his cheek, feels its smoothness, smells the scent of the sea on it and knows that for the first time in his life he is satisfied.
Two very different men and yet they are the same person. Some people have thought it might be you and me but I don’t think it is I think the person in both stories is God. God himself who like the poor man would sell everything just to have what he wants. And what he wants is YOU. God who like the rich man has everything at his beck and call, the skies and the seas, worlds and galaxies that you and I have never dreamed of. And yet all of it is not enough to make him happy until he has you. God who is the shepherd looking for lost sheep, the father searching for the lost son.
So let’s think about how valuable we are. God would give his most precious thing to have you. God the creator of the universe, of the seas and stars and the planets could never be content until he has brought you, yes you home. That is how much your life is worth.
And if we understand how valuable we are to God, how precious we are in His sight, it should follow that we too will value our lives. We sang a song last week in Whiting Bay and Kildonan church that has the line, ‘Guilty, vile and helpless we’. And yes we are Guilty and helpless in God’s sight but we are not vile we are valuable. In fact the chorus that starts ‘I’m special because God has loved me For He gave the best thing that He had to save me’ is much more on the money as far as I am concerned’. And, that is the first point that we can take from these parables that God loves us, we are valuable to him. Our lives have value and we can think highly of ourselves because God thinks highly of US.
But there is another message too, because these parables are sometimes called the hidden parables—so-called because Jesus tells them only to His disciples. So we find out at Matthew verse 36 that Jesus takes the disciples away from the crowd and into the house and tells them these parables. So this is a message not for everyone but for his closest followers. What was the message for his disciples then and for his followers now? The message is that everyone is valuable to God, everyone matters. God cannot be happy, cannot be content until every single one of his beloved children has turned to him and is safely held in his loving arms. So when we leave here today we should feel filled with joy because we know how much God values us and how much our lives are worth. But we should also feel challenged because like the disciples, as disciples, we have been given a big and important task, to let everyone we meet know that God loves and values them. People who no-one else values, people who don’t value themselves, people whom the world has written off, people we don’t like or cannot understand, people who seem worthless to us. And by following the example of Jesus we can do that. And the way to do it is that we ourselves have to value everyone, remember Jesus did not spend his time with the Pharisees and leaders, he spent his time with lepers, with fishermen, with tax collectors, with women of uncertain background, with mad people. Jesus spent time with people of all sorts, he visited their homes, he listened to their stories, he reached out and touched them, he truly cared for everyone he met and that is what we must do. I know that isn’t always easy but fortunately we don’t have to do it by ourselves we have the power of the Holy Spirit to help us.
So let’s try and remember God loves and values us all, we are his pearls of great price, and remember too that as his followers we have to go out into the world and show God’s love by valuing every one we meet, by letting them know that they are valued by us and more importantly valued by God.